Aug 22 2016

Maintaining the Flow of Justice

_CES3656Last week a friend and I drove over to Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana to photograph the waterfalls at Hemlock Cliffs National Scenic Trail. Our area had received several days of rain and we thought it would be a good time to check the falls out.  It turned out to be the perfect time to be there.  Both of the waterfalls on the trail had an abundance of water.  I was excited to have the opportunity to photograph the falls because these are seasonal waterfalls.  The only other time I had been on the trail there was only a trickle of water coming over the falls.  I found myself wishing that the falls always looked like they did last week.  It would be wonderful to visit this area throughout the seasons and photograph the beautiful waterfalls but that’s not going to happen.  These falls are dependent on weather systems that will not support this and I have no control over that.

Thinking about the contrast in the water flow between my two visits my mind wandered to the ancient words of the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (5:24) Most of the streams in the land of Israel, like the falls at Hemlock Cliffs, are seasonal.  The streambeds or wadis remain dry until the rains come.  Soon thereafter they are dry again.  Through the prophet God declared that the justice he saw lacking in the land was meant to flow constantly like a steady river or a never-failing stream.

_CES3672Amos spent his time pointing out to Israel the many places where injustice raised its ugly head. It was obvious that God was not pleased with the way His people had ignored His calls that justice be practiced among all.  Only occasionally was justice practiced. That’s why there was the plea to let justice and righteousness flow on a regular basis.  God’s people, then and now, fall short when justice issues are ignored.

_CES3718I have a feeling that God is still trying to get this message across to people today. We live in a world where injustice continues to be prevalent.  We hear most often about matters pertaining to racial injustice but there are many other arenas where injustice occurs on a regular basis.  It happens in the arena of fair wages, gender discrimination, food distribution, penal incarceration and age discrimination.  As I have written about previously, many environmental issues are justice issues as well.

_CES3749Today Christians cannot afford to remain silent in the face of injustice. If we do we shouldn’t be surprised if God tells us the same thing He did Israel long ago: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)  No matter how big the crowds, how glorious the music or inspirational the preaching, our worship services are found unsatisfactory to God if we are not at the same time committed to maintaining justice.

I cannot change the weather to make the water flow more freely at Hemlock Cliffs but I can make a difference in whether the river of justice continues to flow, and so can you. May God help us all to do just that.


(I took these images last week at Hemlock Cliffs National Scenic Trail.)

Apr 18 2010

A Call for Justice

BBF 4419This morning I preached a message from Amos chapter 5.  In this passage God comes down hard on the people of Israel and indicates that He is about to wipe them out.  Amos reveals the reason for God’s anger.  The people had turned “justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground.”  After identifying a number of ways that Israel had failed to practice justice and righteousness God declared, “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

Thirty years ago I had the privilege of studying in Israel for a month.  The Middle East is an arid region; there are few flowing rivers in Israel.  Following rainstorms, however, water rushes down streambeds that are normally dry.  These streambeds are called wadis.  What God seems to be saying through Amos here is “Listen, justice and righteousness must be more than wadis that flow only on certain occasions, slow to a trickle at other times, and often dry up completely.  Justice and righteousness are to be like rolling, surging streams of water that flow continuously.”

God’s message to the ancient Israelites is intended for us today too.  Unfortunately there is still much injustice in the world and a shortage of righteousness.  In addition to racial , social and economic injustice, there is a great deal of environmental injustice.  The earth, which Psalm 24:1 tells us belongs to the Lord, is often abused.  Many of the creatures God made, likewise, suffer at our hands.  The polluting of the air and water might also be seen as examples of environmental injustice.  I cannot help but believe that these are things that upset God.  The earth is His Creation and He loves it dearly.  How it must hurt Him to see the way many of us have treated His handiwork! 

This week we will once again observe Earth Day.  I’m glad we will have many reminders in the days to come about how important it is to care for the earth but as Christians we shouldn’t need these reminders.  The Bible is full of passages that call for us to practice environmental stewardship and justice.  Loving and caring for the earth is part of what it means to be a Christian.  But some of us need reminders nonetheless and if we don’t pay heed to them I fear that we, like Israel before us, will experience devastation.  We, too, will reap what we sow.  I hope you’ll think about that the next time you see a flowing body of water.  That’s what I did when I photographed the image above at Bad Branch Falls this past Friday.